(Photo : Facebook)
When most fans of the K-pop boy band U-KISS think of rapper Kim "AJ" Jae Seop, Ivy League is probably not the first thing that comes to mind.
Yet that could change for residents of Kim's new residence, the Big Apple, as local daily newspaper the New York Post profiled AJ on Wednesday, in an article focusing on the singer's academic pursuits at Columbia University in Harlem.
According to Post reporter Gregory Miller, at the height of U-KISS's success, AJ was growing increasingly disappointed in himself that he had ditched school for the band, so he hired a private tutor and earned his GED.
"Although I did not receive a normal education like other students, I have been able to prove that I can compete with the best of them, taking control of my future," said the 22-year-old K-pop star-turned-Ivy Leaguer.
Though currently in the midst of a three-show tour with U-KISS which includes a show on New Year's Day at San Francisco's Warfield Theater, a performance at New York City's Best Buy Theater on Thursday and a date at LA's Club Nokia Theatre on Tuesday, when AJ's winter break concludes, he will return to Columbia, where he is pursuing a psychology major.
AJ's U-KISS bandmate Kevin Woo believes it is a perfect fallback career path for the rapper.
"There's no reason for him not to be [a psychologist]," Woo said. "He can really tell what someone is thinking."
But AJ, who the Post article compares to both Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus's "Hannah Montana" TV alter ego, admits going from being a celebrity in Korea to a virtual nobody in the US was not an easy pill to swallow.
"In Korea and Japan, when the members of U-KISS go outside, they're pretty much recognized. U-KISS is pretty famous," he said. "When I came here for school, no one recognized me."
"The pro is that I can experience the best of both worlds, but the con would be the confusion," he added.
"I am kind of confused on my identity. But since I chose this life, though it is difficult, I have to deal with it."
Yet in his first semester of college, just when he felt completely anonymous in New York City, AJ was reminded of U-KISS's international reach when he ventured downtown to the enclave of Korean restaurants and markets on 31st Street in Manhattan known as Koreatown.
"Since I missed Korean food desperately, I went down to Koreatown by myself, and one night after I had a dinner, there was one person [who told me] 'I'm a KissMe!'" AJ recalled.
KissMe is the self-declared nickname for U-KISS fans.
"That was the first time someone in New York recognized me as a singer," he said. "I took a picture with her."
And despite all the confusion, AJ is having fun making new friends at Columbia who don't know anything about his other life onstage.
"I want them to know me as a person," he said.
(Photo : Facebook)